Roger plots for Open behind closed doors
ROGER Federer has successfully executed the first phase of his Australian Open plan – a week of clandestine practice in Sydney with coach Tony Roche.
The world's finest player flew to Australia from his Dubai base to spend Christmas with Roche, secretively laying the foundation for another Melbourne Park tilt.
Federer, 24, returned to the Middle East last night to prepare to defend the Qatar Open crown in Doha.
Still bitterly disappointed by his semi-final loss to eventual champion Marat Safin at the centenary Open at Rod Laver Arena, Federer has stunned those around him with his training intensity.
Determined to toil undisturbed, world champion Federer left his luxury city hotel in Sydney early each morning to make the journey to Roche's private court.
Completing up to three sessions a day with a mentor who does not tolerate slackers, Federer slept on Roche's couch between sessions to recover.
After eating lunch and sometimes dinner at Roche's home, Federer then travelled back to central Sydney to rest.
The peerless Wimbledon and US Open champion is chasing a 34th title in Doha to continue what shapes as an ominously driven preparation for the Australian Open.
Federer, winner of six majors, is desperate to reclaim the Australian Open as arch rival Lleyton Hewitt prepares to go one step further than last year.
Federer will fly back to Australia for the Kooyong Classic in Melbourne from January 11 before tackling the Australian Open, where Safin is unlikely to be able to defend his title due to knee problems.
Those close to Federer are astonished at his pre-season aggression and his regular laments over the failure to convert a match point in last year's Open semi-final.
Federer lost only four matches in a stunning tour de force marked by 11 victories, including two majors. Only Russian Safin (Australian Open), Frenchman Richard Gasquet (Monte Carlo), Spaniard Rafael Nadal (French Open) and Argentine David Nalbandian (Masters Cup) lowered the colours of the Swiss genius.
Federer snuck into Australia in December 2004 to tap into Roche's incomparable practice court savvy.
Roche was rewarded mid-year for his input when Federer lifted the Wimbledon and US Open trophies.
He described the fluent right-hander as being on a par with Australian gun Lew Hoad, the highest of praise from those who witnessed Hoad at his most devastating.
Tellingly, Roche believes there is scope for improvement in Federer's game – the second serve and volleying.
Roche is seen to be expert in teaching both skills.
The pair will work together for 14 weeks this year.
Hewitt this week begins his quest for a third Adelaide title before switching his attention the Sydney International at Olympic Park, where he will bid for a record fifth crown.
He will then zero in on Rod Laver Arena where he last year succumbed to an inspired Safin and a groin injury in a four-set final.
The last man to beat Federer in Davis Cup, Hewitt refuses to be distracted by the lure of another clash with the Swiss world No.1, who has won the pair's past nine clashes and leads 11-7 overall.